The Difference Between Writing and Legislating Is …

2014 05 23 18 15 05

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All rights reserved.

The difference between writing and legislating is, to put it in Okie parlance, writing don’t matter.

I’ve heard the old canard “The pen is mightier than the sword” all my life. Sounds great, doesn’t it? After all, Marx and Hitler both wrote books that laid waste much of the 20th century and whose insidious damage not only lingers, but is still active, like occult cancer cells in the social bloodstream that just won’t die.

It appears that some people are willing to kill just about anybody and everybody based on what they think is written in the Koran. And other people are willing to die for what is written in the Bible, and still other people (get ready for this) are ready to tear down the structure of society based on what is written by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al.

The pen, is, or a least it can be, mighty. But I can tell you as a former sword holder that there’s nothing like brandishing the bludgeon of law around to scare the you-know-what out of people, including yourself.

The difference between writing as I do it and legislating as I did it is that writing don’t matter.

I can write a different blog post after I finish this one commanding everyone who reads it to go find a bridge and jump off of it. But, it won’t matter if I do.

In the first place, nobody has to read what I write. There’s zero penalty for just taking a pass on reading my words. In the second place, such a command, coming in a blog post, is far more likely to inspire laughter than obedience, because nobody — and I mean nobody — has to do what it says. In the third place, anything I write, whether its drivel or genius, will be forgotten in about 36 hours, max.

Writers are a lot more sensitive and emotional than legislators, and I include myself in that category. I’ve done a couple of things as a writer that I would not have dreamed of doing as a legislator. The reason?

It don’t matter.

The anger of a writer is more like a child, throwing their toys around in a pique. When a lawmaker gets angry, people get scared. Because the anger of a lawmaker can have huge consequences. By the same token, and appearances aside, lawmakers don’t take off after each other in public all the time, again for one simple reason. Such behavior can have consequences.

I know that sounds untrue, given the verbal fisticuffs that lawmakers engage in 24/7, but believe me, there are rules; things you don’t say, things you don’t do and confidences you don’t violate. The consequences are too high.

I went through a long period where I was hated and despised by my colleagues because of the fact that I would run right over them if I had to in order to pass pro life laws. The weakness in all their nasty that they heaped on my head was that I might have been hated and despised, but I was also Representative Hated and Despised. They could — and did — break my heart. But they had to be careful about taking it past the capitol doors, because there could be — would be — consequences.

There’s a saying in politics: Forgive and remember.

Nobody wants to get on the business end of that saying. It’s just stupid to put yourself there.

And it is also what I love most about not being a legislator. I can write whatever I want as a blogger and not get all in a snit about it because It. Don’t. Matter.

Lawmakers can kill people by putting a comma in the wrong place. Not only that, but bad laws don’t go away. They have a shelf life that runs into generations. Make a mistake with a law, and you can ruin people’s lives, even end people’s lives, for decades into the future.

Not only that, but lawmaking is always an exercise in who to hurt. Just about every vote I cast in my 18 years in office was at some level a decision as to who to hurt.

The pressures, the responsibility and the inevitability of making mistakes that will do harm were like living in a pressure cooker with the heat cranked up. Add to that the responsibility for thousands of constituents, and you’ve got a whole mountain on top you.

Nobody calls a blogger at three in the morning because their son was just murdered in the jail. When it rains, I don’t worry if Brock Creek will flood and drown people. The other day when I was taking Mama to the doc, I saw a cloud of smoke in the general area of my district. I looked at it, said a prayer for those involved, and felt grateful with the gratitude of someone who does not have to deal with it and try to make it right.

If a tornado wipes out your neighborhood, you’ve got to rebuild, but you don’t have to put on your boots and hard hat and go out, walking from one smashed home to another, making a list of things that people are needing that you have to figure out how to get for them. Of course, helping them is the good part. Having them cling to you like wounded children is what humbles and drains you to the depths.

I no longer have to convince gangs to stop killing people and work to keep the police and the people on the same congenial page. I look at things like Ferguson and I know that somewhere in all this there were lawmakers who weren’t doing their jobs, who didn’t get these things worked out and taken care of before they got to this pass.

Because legislating isn’t all or even mostly lawmaking. It’s taking care of thousands upon thousands of people. It’s protecting and building community. It’s loving and caring and using yourself up in the service of others.

Writing a blog, on the other hand, is mostly a kind of thinking out loud. A blog has a wide, wide sweep. It gets into the thinking of almost limitless numbers of people all over the globe. It can engage them and give them an opportunity to express their own thoughts and feelings. It can, at its best, help them to develop those thoughts and think things through.

Blogging is a form of teaching and a kind of entertainment.

But it does not — ever — reach the point where it really matters all that much.

Because if I made a law telling people to jump off a bridge, they would have to do it or pay fines, go to prison or find the scratch and spit to take on the government in court. But if I write a blog post telling people to jump off a bridge, they can — and will — laugh at me and turn the page.

On the other hand, if I write a blog post that gets people all worked up and wanting to lynch me, I can shut down the computer and go to a movie. They can’t do anything more than hiss and spit and disagree.

Blogging is fun precisely because It. Don’t. Matter.

It’s taken me a while to “get” that. In fact, I’m working on it still. I have to learn and know and believe what I’m saying to you here does not have the gravitas and will never be as deadly as law. The only consequence it has is what you, of your own free will, chose to give it.

I can help you think. I can provoke you to take ideas and noodle with them, disagree with them, support them, or dissect them. But I can do this only if you chose to do it. The contract between you and me, writer to reader, is our mutual freedom.

That’s the essence of what I’m trying to learn about my new life. I am slowly coming to grips with the sudden and as yet incomprehensible degree of freedom that is mine. I’ve traded a straightjacket for wings. I’ve cashed in my blazer with the target on it for a computer that turns off and an office door that shuts.

Because, in the final analysis and at the end of the day when the rubber meets the road and we get to the bottom line all in a collision of cliches and final thoughts, It. Don’t. Matter.

Ladies and gentlemen, put on your reading glasses, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to roll.

I am free.

Writing Selfie: I’ve Been Tagged and Now I Must Tell All

My pal Kathy Schiffer tagged me in the writing relay, #mywritingprocess.

Kathy has already done her part, answering four questions about why/when/what she writes. Elizabeth Duffy (another Catholic Patheosi) tagged Kathy after doing the same.

Now I’m up, and this should be a piece of cake. After all, this relay asks me, a blogging politician, to talk about myself. How tough is that? Get your earplugs and eyeshades ready.

I’m off.

1. What are you working on?

We’re entering the home stretch with the legislative session — crazy time — so I’m not “working” on anything. I’m just running from one thing to the next. Kind of like playing a giant game of wackamole that isn’t a game. It’s my life.

In between that, and oftentimes while I’m actively doing something else, I hammer out blog posts. I try to proof read before I post, but no matter how many times I proof, I always see mistakes after I post and have to make corrections online. Then, I re-read and do it again. And again. And again.

If it wasn’t for kindly readers who give me a nudge once in a while, I would end up with some really stupid errors out there for the whole wide world to see. Some days, it happens anyway.

Does that answer “What are you working on?” Maybe not. Probably not. I am also writing a book, which is the first of three books I am going to write. But I put that on hold until June for the simple reason that it doesn’t lend itself to the stop and go craziness of end of session life.

Not that blogging does lend itself to it.

But blogging can be bent to work … most of the time.

I’ll probably have to take a blogging hiatus for a week or so toward the end of the month. I’m pretty elastic, but there are limits to how far I can stretch writing abilities.

2. What makes your work different from others’ work in the same genre?

The difference is the me that I put into it. Lots of people can write about faith. Even more people can write about politics/public life/challenges to faith. But I’m the only one who can write about it as me, with my unique viewpoint and ideas.

Egotistical as this sounds, I think that’s what makes my work special. I’m not talking only about blogging, but my work as a legislator and every other thing I’ve done in my life, including raising my kids.

I am my own unique self, as is everyone who reads this. What I have to offer to any endeavor I undertake is that essential and totally unique self, that me-ness. I honestly think that where so many people go wrong is that they try too hard to be like everyone else. If you focus on being like somebody else and doing what other people would do, you’ll end up living somebody else’s life.

I’m not the best writer at Patheos. Not even close. But I am the only writer here with my experiences, my ideas, my thought processes and unique values.

I don’t run away from myself.

That’s what makes my work stand out.

3. Why do you write what you write?

I have a sense of mission about what I’m doing at Patheos. I honestly believe that the reason I am here is what Protestants call “a God deal.” I guess you could say that I was tapped to write before Kathy tapped me for this writing relay.

I write what I write because I think it needs to be said.

4. How does your writing process work?

Maybe I should wait until I have a writing process to answer this one.

I write fast because I don’t have the option of writing slow. I can’t linger over word choices or meditate on possible reactions. I have to write it and then immediately go do something else. I basically use the same writing “formula” that I use for speechmaking.

When I first began making lots of speeches, I borrowed from something that President Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager once told Eleanor. Mrs Roosevelt was extremely shy and self-conscious. But because of her husband’s disability, she had to step up and make a lot of speeches on his behalf. His campaign manager gave her a bit of advice that, if you follow it, removes the terror from public speaking and writing:

“Have something to say. Say it. And sit down,” he told her.

That’s how I write. I don’t try for eloquence or even profundity. My goal is to have something to say, say it and then back off and let Public Catholic’s readers chew on it.

The identifiable process that I use revolves more around the technology I lean on to help me get things done. I have a Macbook Air 11” that literally fits in a big-ish purse and can be carried anywhere. When I’m out and about, I write with that. I use a blogging software called Mars Edit to draft my posts. I avoid writing online because I’ve lost too many things that way and because the internet can go to s-l-o-o-o-w-w-w-w with no warning.

By writing in Mars Edit, I can get it down. Then if the internet goes daft, I can wait it out by doing other things without fear of losing what I’ve written.

I have an old Mac Pro that I use when I’m at home. It is a fantastic computer with all the horses I need for the different things I do.

I use Macs because they don’t give me attitude, and they never wear out. I’ve never had a Mac go belly up on me. Not once in the all the years I’ve used them.

Passing the Torch

You’re gonna love the blogger I’ve tapped for the next installment of Writer Selfie. The Crescat, aka, Katrina Fernandez, who is my nominee for the most honest and uninhibited blogger on Patheos, is up next. I am so excited. I can’t wait to see what she does with this.


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